State your business

I was just visiting the International Spy Museum while taking a break from the large Society for Neuroscience meeting.  I was a bit disappointed with the hokeyness of it, but it was fun seeing real spy gadgets from the 40’s to the 70’s involving dart-shooting umbrellas, film cameras hidden in pens and buttonholes, radio transmitters in shoes and a German WWII Enigma machine. I also liked the fact that at some point the Russians had created a cipher based on an obscure science fiction novel that nobody had read. I think the interactive exhibits could have been made more engaging and not quite as dumb. All in all it was fun, and the little stories about different modern-day spies and how they were caught set me thinking about how we create our identities. Which comes to the real point of my post. As a starting scientist, how do you create an identity? How do you let people know who you are. Of course one is through publishing papers and presenting at meetings, but often people forget presentations and may only get to know you by name. My postdoc actually had a creative idea.

A few weeks back we were having a conversation in the lab about business cards. I personally never use them and don’t really know many other scientists that do. The postdoc wanted to know whether it would be a good idea to make cards to hand out during the meeting to people he met. While some people thought that this would be kind of cheesy, and that too was my initial reaction, upon second thought it seemed like a great idea especially when trying to network and get yourself known, particularly if your training was abroad and you really are almost a complete newcomer. So he had some cool cards made with some background design that looked like old histological staining, an old-fashioned drawing of our model organism and some cool looking figure showing some of his data. Then it just had his name, his degree, institution and email. I thought it was brilliant. That way people not only have his contact info but also lots of context that reminds them of the conversation, as well as a cool looking card that you’re not prone to just throw away.

So what about you? Do you use a business card? Is it plain, special or covered in rainbows and unicorns?


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12 Responses to State your business

  1. ala lala says:

    I recently got business cards too and there were a big hit at one conference. I was a bit skeptical so I ended up with mini cards from because I could personalize them (100 different backgrounds) and they were smaller than a regular card. I thought it gave people an idea about what I do with some well chosen backgrounds. Definitely worth the $25 investment on a student budget.

  2. That’s a great idea! I’m going with unicorns and rainbows, definitely (well, poplars… and maybe a sequencer trace).

  3. Bashir says:

    I don’t have one. I agree that it’s kind of hokey, yet probably useful. There are plenty of times that I’m jotting my name and email address on some crumpled up piece of paper for the folks I’m talking with.

  4. physioprof says:

    It’s ridiculous. Academics don’t use business cards, and giving one to somebody makes you look like a fucken rube who is trying way too hard.

    • pramod says:

      I saw the post in reader and came here expecting to see this sort of comment from CPP. I wonder if we can replace CPP with markov chain model trained on his past comments. 🙂

      • Anon says:

        “I wonder if we can replace CPP with markov chain model trained on his past comments.”

        I’m convinced this has already happened! 🙂

    • namnezia says:

      Right, real academics write down their email in little crumpled up pieces of paper so that they can be promptly lost and forgotten. Because, really, if you are memorable enough, everyone will remember your name on the first go. Right?

      • Maybe PI’s don’t need business cards but it can sometimes help push no name trainees out there for networking purposes and get jobs. This is how it is done in the world outside of academia and as the number academic jobs are shrinking, maybe this isn’t such a bad way to go about promoting yourself.

  5. Zuska says:

    Some academics don’t use business cards, and some do. Frequency of use may vary by discipline. My sense is that engineers may be slightly more likely to use them because they are a little more closely connected to the professional workplace, where cards would be more often used. Some people prefer cards because they can jot a note or two on the card after they’ve met the person to remind them of the context of the meeting, or something they want to follow up on with that person. The stack of cards you collect at a meeting can then be easily turned into a follow-up or to-do list when you get back home. Personally, I find something about the tactile experience of the card and writing a note on it helps me remember the person, the meeting, what we talked about, and why I care about remembering them a great deal.

  6. Ewan says:

    I do, and have since I was a grad student; they have gotten me at least one grant and one paper, and at least two collaborations. Don’t see a downside, frankly.

  7. MZ says:

    I almost never use them in the US, but have found business cards EXTREMELY useful when traveling internationally. Particularly if people’s first language is not English, they have a much easier time if you give them something with your name and other info written down. Also, some cultures simply value the process, and it is a gesture of politeness and respect to give someone a card.

  8. NatC says:

    I use them sparingly to avoid the whole scribbling email issue, started using them after people started asking me if I had a business card. I do not give them to everyone I meet.
    Mine is a (slight variation) on the institutional template.

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